“ The Lives of Others ”: Late Praise

Citizens of East and West Germany celebrate by climbing the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate after the announcement of the opening of the East German border in Berlin on November 9, 1989. (Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters)

Continuing in the spirit of weighing things late, I would like to join several of my National review colleagues (past and present) to proclaim the greatness of the German language film The lives of others. Released in 2006 and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, The lives of others is a moving, intimate and haunting depiction of life under Communist rule in East Germany, as revealed by the complicated interaction of an East German Stasi secret police officer with the target of his surveillance. After many years of planning on doing it, I finally watched it last night, and my god was worth the wait.

Contemporary critical opinion, here and elsewhere, has praised The lives of others. Here in the corner in 2007, John Podhoretz called it “one of the greatest movies ever made.” In 2009, John Miller ranked it No.1 on his famous list of the best conservative films of the past 25 years. His rating cites William F. Buckley, still alive for the film’s release, who, after seeing the film in a theater with a friend, turned to him and said, “I think this is the best film.” that I’ve never seen.” Even the Oscars had a rare rush of common sense, granting The lives of others the Oscar for best foreign language film. For an industry with such an ambiguous track record regarding communism, to have consented to the greatness of a severely anti-communist film is a true testament to the greatness of the film.

Without saying too much, in case someone else wants to participate in my slow act, one criticism that some have made of the film is that the arc of the central character, a Stasi agent, is unrealistic. First things provided a convincing case to the contrary at the time, the one that I think is holding up. But anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet should do so to judge for themselves.

Jack Butler is Submission Writer at National review online.

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